LegalZoom: Cheap, or Costly?

Estate Planning and Administrationon May 29th, 2014No Comments

An interesting discussion came across the Estate Planning Listserv of which I am a member this past week.  A fellow North Carolina attorney was assisting with an estate administration (probate) where the Will was prepared using standard LegalZoom fill-in-the-blank forms.  I’ve ranted about LegalZoom (and similar websites like RocketLawyer) before, and find the need to do so again.

More than once in my five or so years of practice, I have encountered someone who used one of these “self help” websites to prepare legal documentation for themselves.  99% of the time, the documents they prepared were incorrect as to form, woefully lacking in terms of substance, and at times, failed to even adhere to North Carolina laws for such documents.

In the case of the fellow NC attorney, the decedent (i.e., deceased person) prepared their own Will and Trust document on LegalZoom, using LegalZoom’s self help forms.  When it came time to probate the Will, the clerk of court found the Will to be indecipherable to the point where she was unwilling to admit the Will for probate.  The Will was not only vague as to the dispositions of the decedent’s intent, but it also attempted to create a trust instrument that is not recognized under either North Carolina probate law or the NC Uniform Trust Code.  In short, the Will that the decedent probably paid less than $100 for wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on.  In order to probate the Will, the attorney needed to obtain a declaratory judgment from the Superior Court, determining exactly where the Will disposed of various property and possessions.

That doesn’t sound so bad, right?  Well, had the decedent paid a little bit more up front, it would have saved quite a bit of time and money for the estate, the attorney, and the beneficiaries/heirs of the decedent.  It costs money to pay an attorney to mop up the mess (likely considerably more than it would have cost to pay an attorney to prepare the proper documents correctly in the first place).  Plus, it extends the process for probate (which, if you have ever been an executor or administrator for an estate, you know is tedious and time consuming even when it goes smoothly).

You get what you pay for, and if you’re only paying $100 or less for a document that purports to direct the disposition of all of your property after your death, it would behoove you to question the “person” you’re paying to provide that document to you for such a low price.  In the long run, paying a little bit more up front to have a North Carolina-licensed attorney prepare the document(s) for you may save your estate and loved ones considerable time and money in the long run.

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